There are certain ways to employ sabermetrics. Using it in your basic head-to-head 5-by-5 league isn't typically one of them. But, if used correctly, it can be a fairly valuable resource alongside good, old-fashioned familiarity.
Let's start with the obvious: the way we measure our fantasy team's success does not mirror sabermetrics at all. Wins are silly, RBIs are useless and unpredictable, and saves are over-rated which leaves us with tip number one.
Avoid the Unpredictable
Every season you usually have to make a conscious effort to 'punt' some statistics. Why shouldn't they be the ones we have no idea how to predict? For wins this means avoiding pitchers like Jered Weaver, Wily Peralta or Wei-Yin Chen. All of whom had 16 or more wins, however, a WHIP of 1.21 or higher and fewer than 170 strikeouts. For saves this means avoiding Fernando Rodney, last year's league-leader in saves. Apart from being in a bullpen with Danny Farquhar and Tom Wilhemsen -- two relievers with closing experience -- Rodney also had a WHIP of 1.34.
For RBIs this gets a bit trickier. Just because a player is 'good' at RBIs doesn't mean he should be flagged. It's just a matter of not over-valuing previous RBI totals. For instance, Yoenis Cespedes gave somebody's fantasy team an elite-sounding 100 RBIs last season. He also hurt that team's batting average with an un-elite .260. On the other hand, Jose Bautista gave someone's team 103 RBIs, 101 runs and a .286 batting average. The advice here is avoid 'only RBI' guys because, chances are, it's just not a great player who happened to get hits with runners in scoring position last season.
Now that you know what to avoid, who will actually make up your team?
wRC+ Is Your Friend
Remember, in a classic 5x5 fantasy league there's no measures for how well a player plays defensively. Sure you can draft Andrelton Simmons because his glove ability will keep him in the lineup, but you're not getting any points for his putouts or assists. For this reason, avoid Wins Above Replacement. It's a good measure of a player's real worth and near-useless in the fantasy world. So, do yourself a favour, head on over here where I've sorted the 2015 Steamer projections by wRC+, a measure of a player's offensive production only. Plus, it's park-adjusted so, when you see Nelson Cruz at 58th you can think a bit more confidently 'hey, maybe Camden likes Cruz a bit more than Safeco will.' In fact, outfielders ahead of Cruz include Jorge Soler and George Springer who you can probably grab at a much better value.
FIP Is Also Your Friend
Your 5x5 league doesn't care much for groundouts or pop-ups and guess what: neither does Fielding Independent Pitching. FIP really hates it when your pitcher gives up a home run, isn't a big fan of when your pitcher walks a batter and really likes when they strike a guy out. Sounds an awful lot like what you're looking for in a fantasy pitcher. And I have more good news: Steamer also projects FIP.
Handy things to note about these projections is they are remarkably even-keeled and they don't really think less of a guy because of injury. For instance, the sixth best starter on the list is Matt Harvey who is currently going 17th among starters in Yahoo leagues. With that said, he is still only projected for 144 innings of work as the Mets will want to limit his workload. In short, Steamer is smart. Steamer would probably beat you in your fantasy league. But you're not playing against Steamer, so use it.
Of course, these last two bits of advice need to be evaluated with a level head. As much as Steamer loves Aroldis Chapman for instance, someone else in your league loves him without looking at Steamer. That being said, someone probably likes Craig Kimbrel more than Chapman, so it's all about knowing when to grab your players. Don't think a player like Chapman will slip to you but also don't take your sleepers too early; after all, they're only sleepers because they're undervalued.
Players Steamer And I Like
In this last section, I'll tip my hand to my future competitors a bit and tell you which players I'd target that Steamer happens to like as well.
Ken Giles: In a bullpen with Jonathan Papelbon, Giles may not be expected to get the bulk of the saves early in the season. But, to use a cliche, the cream rises to the top. Don't take him early, but quietly chuckle to yourself when you take him in the 24th round after Papelbon went 10 rounds earlier.
Gerrit Cole: Ranked barely in the top 25 of starters by Steamer FIP, Cole isn't going to win you your league. But he is getting drafted a round or two later than Sonny Gray who is much, much lower according to Steamer. Good value late.
Prince Fielder: A lot like the Matt Harvey section above, Fielder is a player who your league-mates may undervalue because of injury but you probably shouldn't. He's the 8th best first baseman according to Steamer and he's going 11th in Yahoo leagues. As someone who benefited from Albert Pujols' season last year, it pains me to say this, but don't be the guy that takes Albert Pujols before Prince Fielder. Just saying.
Brandon Moss: I really like Brandon Moss. I was puzzled when the Athletics traded him away. Currently going nine rounds after Carlos Santana, six rounds after Chris Carter and the round after Adam LaRoche, Moss is a good guy to have whether you're stashing him on your bench in a shallow league or you need your third outfielder/backup first baseman in a deep league. Don't reach, let him sit and marinate before asking your friends "hey, who hit more home runs than Jose Bautista, Mike Trout or Robinson Cano in 2013?" and then answer your own question.
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All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs.
Michael Bradburn is a Featured Writer for Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @mwbii. You can also reach him at email@example.com